Admin cites lack of interest
By Noah Mitchell
Skyline has offered Mandarin classes for many years, but it seems like that will finally come to an end for the 2018-19 school year. Some students are upset that one of Skyline’s three world languages will no longer be taught on campus.
“Mandarin can offer a different language option to students who may be fatigued of taking Spanish or French,” said Steven Phan, who published a petition on Change.org to try to save the program. “Personally, I think that the termination of Mandarin is a bad thing because it is already so rare throughout OUSD schools, as well as the Bay Area.”
There still seems to be some confusion amongst students on the real reason for the cancellation of the Mandarin course on campus. “I feel like they made this decision because of OUSD’s budget crisis, coupled with fact that there are not enough students taking the class,” Steven said.
In fact, he is right, on both counts.
“This has been a really tough decision and it has not been a popular one. It has certainly not been one that I wanted to make, but it’s been necessary because of the economics of it,” Co-Principal Bloom said. “Skyline is terminating Mandarin due to a lack of student interest.”
She added that, while she was “very saddened by it” because “Mandarin is an excellent language for our students to master,” that “student interest drives virtually everything we offer here.”
This year, the first-year Mandarin 1 course was not included in the master schedule, with Mandarin teacher Ms. Young asked to teach three sections of study hall in addition to Mandarin 2 and 3.
“I don’t want to take things away from the kids, but the kids are voting with their feet. They’re not signing up for the language, which is saying that they don’t want it,” said Ms. Bloom. “Right now I do not have enough students that wanted to take Mandarin to fill one full class.”
Steven’s online petition, which had 196 signatures as of May 28, argues, “Aren’t high schools suppose to support students who want to take challenging and beneficial courses and better prepare students for their future?” but the administration says this is always realistic.
“We can offer any one of 53 different languages on this campus, but if there’s only a few students who want to take it I simply can’t afford to do that,” Ms. Bloom said, referring to the added cost of paying teachers with small class sizes.
However, as the petition points out that, this spring, the class was not even offered on course request sheets. Bloom confirmed this, and was apologetic.
“The administration team did not work well collectively and resulted in a decision being made without everyone else’s input on whether or not Mandarin would be listed on the course selection guide,” she said. “When I discovered that, we went ahead and made incoming freshmen for Mandarin 1 class a separate course sheet. We also announced the issue at assemblies while doing a lot more promoting of Mandarin 1 to let kids know that it was available if we had an appropriate number of kids; unfortunately we did not.”
Studying at least two years of a world language in high school is not only required for completing the A-G requirements for graduation in OUSD, but some students also use this as an opportunity to advance within a language they will continue to pursue in college or elsewhere.
“I feel that Mandarin is important to students . . . because it brings diversity and opens up the doors in the future to the possibility of speaking the language and indulging in the culture,” said Steven. “Biliteracy is needed. Getting any job in fluent translation pays good money for those who can meet a company’s needs.”
According a 2017 study by the American Councils, Mandarin/Chinese is the 5th-most commonly taught world language in the United States, after Spanish, French, German and Latin, respectively. However, many experts rank it as one of the most difficult for English-speakers to learn.
“Mandarin Chinese is challenging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the writing system is extremely difficult,” wrote Dylan Lyons of Babbel.com. “The tonal nature of the language makes speaking it very hard as well.”
“Mandarin is based off of ideogram which focuses more on the meaning than the pronunciation of words. If one were to read it they will know the meaning, but maybe not how to pronounce it. This makes it harder for students because there’s no set alphabet,” Steven said. “[But] once you learn Mandarin, like any other language, it becomes easier over time, it’s based on practice.”
A visit to Ms. Young’s advanced Mandarin classes shows that many who currently take the class have an Asian background, and some have experience with other tonal languages like Cantonese. With about 15 percent of OUSD students identified by the district as “Asian” ethnicity, and 16 percent of Titans, axing the school’s only Asian language does raise a possible issue of discrimination, as the Steven’s Change.org petition implies: “Such decision making, which is totally inconsiderate of current and future students who want to take Mandarin, is an inequity in itself.”
Luckily, some preparation has been done in order to help current Mandarin students adjust.
“We are timing it in such a way where we didn’t offer Mandarin 1 last year, so there’s not Mandarin 2 class this year. So by definition there’s no Mandarin 3 class next year,” Bloom stated. “Primarily we’ve done it through attrition that so when the kids time out of it that they’re not losing too much time, but some kids will be, and they’ll need to repeat a level of Mandarin 2 that we’ll need to figure out how to accommodate them because they have a right to have a second opportunity.”
Currently, according to admin projections, the following world language courses will be offered for 2018-19: Spanish 1, 2, and 3; AP Spanish; French 1, 2, and 3 (combined with French AP); Espanol para Hispanos 2, 3 and 4.